Andy Stanley is finally sharing his thoughts about criticism over his involvement in a recent conference for Christian parents of what the megachurch pastor repeatedly referred to as “gay kids.”
Stanley, whose North Point Community Church in Alpharetta, Georgia, hosted the Unconditional Conference last week, spoke candidly to his congregation in a message Sunday that, unlike the rest of the church’s sermons, was not live-streamed on North Point’s digital platforms.
In an audio recording of the sermon leaked to social media, Stanley addressed a number of topics, including the controversy surrounding the Unconditional Conference and the church’s theological stance on marriage.
The 65-year-old Stanley began the message by explaining why the church opted not to stream the sermon as usual.
“I’ve made it a habit to never say anything out there that I haven't said in here first,” he said. “So I feel like I need to respond out there to some of the criticism, but before I respond out there, I wanted you to hear it from me first, and that’s why we chose not to stream the message online.”
Stanley then defended criticism he received last month from Albert Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, who described the message of the Unconditional Conference as “a departure from historic normative biblical Christianity.”
Stanley deflected the criticism by saying Mohler’s “version of biblical Christianity is the problem.”
“His version, this version of biblical Christianity, is why people are leaving Christianity unnecessarily,” he added. “It’s the version that causes people to resist the Christian faith because they can’t find Jesus in the midst of all the other stuff and all the other theology and all the other complexity that gets globbed on to the message.”
He then moved on to the matter at hand by recapping North Point’s history of responding to what Stanley repeatedly referred to as either “gay kids” or “same-sex attracted kids.”
Stanley offered a “language disclaimer” in which he noted that when a Christian student “comes out” as LGBT-identified, they have rarely engaged in “any same-sex sort of behavior,” which he called an “important distinction.”
“The realization that they are even drawn in the direction of same-sex attraction is terrifying to a middle schooler and terrifying to a high school student,” he said. “They don't embrace it, they resist it.
“They find themselves in a battle not against a behavior. They find themselves in a battle against a defining attraction that they did not choose but somehow has chosen them.”
The pastor also repeated an assertion he made in a message he delivered in January in which he suggested that God has failed to answer the prayers of some of the LGBT community who asked Him to change their hearts.
In his comments Sunday, Stanley again drew a distinction between homosexuality as a behavior and what he described as an immutable characteristic.
“They pray, they beg God to take it away,” he said. “... They are literally afraid they are going to Hell, not because of anything they’ve done, but because of who they are.”
Stanley also defended a decision to invite two openly gay men, Justin Lee and Brian Nietzel, to speak at the Unconditional Conference. Both men are in same-sex marriages.
According to Stanley, who acknowledged the two men were “at the center of all the controversy” prior to the conference, both Lee and Nietzel had been previously invited to speak at North Point’s quarterly meeting of Parent Connect, a ministry for parents of LGBT-identified children.
“We had already heard what they were going to say. We already knew how effective they were at connecting with parents of gay kids in particular,” he said.
“Here’s the thing about Brian and Justin: their stories and their journeys of growing up in church and maintaining their faith in Christ and their commitment to follow Christ all through their high school and college and singles and all up to the time that they were married, their story is so powerful for parents of gay, especially kids, that it’s a story gay parents and gay kids need to hear.”
But it was the closing of Stanley’s message that brought what was perhaps the most surprising element of the entire sermon: his stated commitment to teaching his congregation what he called a “New Testament sexual ethic” and declared that North Point teaches marriage is between a man and a woman.
“Sex is for married people,” he said. “We talk about, we teach about marriage the same way that Jesus and the apostles did. Every instruction in the Bible regarding marriage references or assumes a husband and a wife, a man and a woman.
“So biblical marriage is between a man and a woman. We’ve never shied away from that.”
In response to the message, Denny Burk, president of The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood and professor of biblical studies at Boyce College and Southern Seminary, described Stanley’s message as “subversively anti-Christian.”
“It’s an anti-Christian message because it tells sinners that they don’t need to repent of their sin in order to be a Christian,” Burk told The Christian Post via email Monday. “It’s subversive because the message is cloaked in a veneer of Christian-ese. It’s designed to persuade the consciences of Christians of a message that is incompatible with basic Christian teaching.
Burk added Stanley’s message was a “direct contradiction of texts like Ephesians 5:5-6, ‘For this you know with certainty, that no immoral or impure person or covetous man, who is an idolater, has an inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience.’”
He said while he views Stanley as a “false teacher,” his teachings have already disqualified him from pastoral ministry.
“I hope and pray that he repents and turns back from this unfaithful teaching. But even if he does, I think this teaching has already disqualified him from being a pastor,” Burk asserted.
“He has failed to obey Paul’s command to Titus: ‘He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it.’”